Pope vows action against priest sex abuse

Pope Benedict XVI promises that the Roman Catholic Church will confront the priesthood's sex abuse scandal, making public comments on the crisis days after meeting with abuse victims.
Pope Benedict XVI leads his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday. ((Alessia Pierdomenico/Reuters))

Pope Benedict XVI promised Wednesday that the Roman Catholic Church will confront the priesthood's sex abuse scandal, making public comments on the crisis days after meeting with a group of abuse victims.

During his weekly public audience in St. Peter's Square, Benedict recounted his tearful weekend meeting in Malta with eight men who say they were abused as children by priests in a church-run orphanage.

"I shared with them their suffering and emotionally prayed with them, assuring them of church action," Benedict said.

At the time of the private meeting Sunday, the Vatican issued a statement saying Benedict had told the men that the church would do everything in its power to bring abusive priests to justice and would implement "effective measures" to protect children.

On Wednesday, the public heard the words from the Pope himself.

Neither Benedict nor the Vatican has elaborated on what action or measures are being considered. Various national bishops conferences have over the years implemented norms for handling cases of priests who sexually molest children, none more stringent than the zero-tolerance policy adopted by the United States.

The U.S. norms bar credibly accused priests from any public church work while claims against them are under investigation.

Diocesan review boards, mostly made up of lay people, help bishops oversee cases. Clergy found guilty are permanently barred from public ministry and, in some cases, ousted from the priesthood.

Guidelines issued

Last week, the Vatican for the first time issued guidelines telling bishops they should report cases of abusive priests to police where civil laws require it.

While the Vatican has insisted that was long its policy, it was never written explicitly. Victims, lawyers, government-backed inquiries and grand juries have all accused the church of trying to keep clerical abuse secret and away from civil jurisdiction.

Benedict said in a homily last week that Christians must repent for sins and recognize mistakes. Those comments were widely interpreted as referring to the scandal.

But his comments Wednesday marked his first public and direct remarks on the crisis since March 20, when he wrote a letter to the Irish faithful concerning the abuse crisis in that country.